Study by Kenneth Gadow, PhD and colleagues Identifies Links between Developmental Factors and Depression in Boys with ASD

A study by Kenneth Gadow, PhD and colleagues identified several significant associations between developmental factors and depression in boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Most of these associations were not present in a comparison group of typically developing boys.

Depression in children with ASD can be difficult to recognize because some symptoms of depression overlap with characteristics of ASD and because depression might manifest itself differently in children with ASD. The identification of factors indicating an increased risk for depression in children with ASD can aid with diagnosis and help to identify potential targets for early intervention.

Sixty-three high-functioning boys with ASD and 57 typically developing boys completed questionnaires to measure depression, coping strategies, social functioning and IQ. Coping strategies were categorized into three types: approach, avoidance and maladaptive. Measures of social functioning included questions about victimization and negative interactions with friends, such as conflict or betrayal.

The researchers found that boys with ASD reported higher levels of depression, victimization and negative friendship interactions than typically developing boys. Among boys with ASD, the use of approach and avoidant coping strategies were associated with a lower risk of depression while maladaptive coping was positively associated with it. Victimization and negative friendship interactions positively predicted symptoms of depression among boys with ASD. The same patterns of association were not observed in typically developing boys. Only a negative association between approach coping and depression and a positive association between maladaptive coping and depression were observed in this group.

Because the study was cross-sectional, the researchers were not able to identify the causal relationships among the variables, but they observed that the relationship between less effective coping strategies and depression and between victimization and depression are probably reciprocal. Their findings suggest that it might be beneficial to teach boys with ASD strategies that promote social interaction.

The article is titled “The link between emotion regulation, social functioning, and depression in boys with ASD.” It was published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders in January 2013.